Earlier this year, the blog Savage Minds and Anthropologists for a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions joined forces to post a series of six essays on the issue of the academic boycott of Israel.
The essays, all by figures eminent within the field of anthropology and archaeology, combine personal, political and philosophical reflection on why each of the writers believes an academic boycott to be a necessary and ethical tool in the fight against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.
Together, the authors of the essays read like a roll-call of some of the most eminent scholars in the anthropology of the Middle East.
They include Talal Asad, specialist in Middle Eastern religion and politics at City University of New York Graduate Center; Steve Caton of Harvard, who is an expert on Yemen and the Arabian peninsula; Michael Taussig of Columbia, famous for his work on ritual, colonialism and Walter Benjamin; and Rosemary Sayigh, best-known for her pioneering 1979 book Palestinians: From Peasants to Revolutionaries.
Why do academics boycott Israel?
In the ongoing fight for a boycott, in which BDS supporters are often charged with stifling academic freedom or anti-Semitic targeting of Jewish scholars, the set of essays is a valuable contribution for several reasons.
Firstly, it gives a detailed picture of the decisions-making processes which major scholars in the field have been through as they decide to publicly back the boycott call. Some note that they have not previously been fans of boycotts, but see the case of Israel as justifying such a move.
Some describe decades-long processes of coming to an understanding of the extent to which drastic – if peaceful – measures need to be taken to challenge a state which routinely flouts international law and basic ethics, and is never pulled up on it by other nations.
All display the amount of thought and consideration that academics put into deciding that to boycott another country’s academic institutions is necessary in the face of state intransigence and brutality. There are no knee-jerk reactions or simple bigotries in these actions.
Secondly, it is a valuable insight for those of us outside the world of academia into the conversations that go within academic disciplines.
For better or worse, there are many causes and campaigns demanding people’s time and commitment. So it is important to know what arguments and events sway professionals like this to decide not just to back a cause, but to put their heads above the parapet and make a statement which they know will bring accusations and insults at them from the Zionist lobby.
Thirdly, this collection of essays represents a brilliant resource, almost an anthology of the arguments for an academic boycott, as well as refutations of the accusations that invariably come from the Zionist quarter.
For the six not only comprise the essays themselves, but also a set of suggested readings and links from each writer, pointing the interested on to new essays, statements, articles and other resources.
And those interested (whether for political or professional reasons) in the interactions between the issue of Palestine and the discipline of anthropology can look forward to the forthcoming book Anthropology’s Politics: Disciplining the Middle East by Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar (who edited the Savage Minds series).